The tweet at issue was just 10 words long: “How young is too young to teach kids about race?”
I can only imagine they were trying to be progressive, trying to ask the hard questions, engage the tough debates. They would have congratulated themselves for not shying away from controversial topics.
They may even have thought they were advancing the conversation about racism. And, in fact, they were -- only not as they planned.
Some of the replies referenced historical incidents. Brad Batt pointed out that “Ruby Bridges was 6 years old when she had to be escorted by U.S. Marshals to kindergarten.”
Many more shared their own personal stories. Awful stories. Gut-wrenching stories.
Brittani Warrick said she was “called the n-word in second grade.”
Connie Priebe said, “When I was 5, playing at a public park, 3 white kids threw me to the ground and kicked me in the stomach and punched me in the head. They didn’t like an Indian in the neighborhood. I was black and blue for weeks.”
Maureen Herman said, “My daughter was in kindergarten when another kid told her she was the ‘wrong color.’ I found out because she asked me what the right color was.”
Jamil Smith, senior correspondent at Vox.com, offered a response along similar lines, and then, in a postscript, addressed the fatal flaw: “P.S. This framing is embarrassing. You need more people.”
Over and over, story after story of young children, tiny children, babies experiencing horrific racial abuse, all of it with the same message: If you are Black, indigenous, or a person of color, you don’t get to choose when you learn these things. And, therefore, the only possible way to interpret CBS’s question is to add back the unsaid word: “How young is too young to teach white kids about race?”
The American Psychological Association defines framing as “the process of defining the context or issues surrounding a question, problem, or event in a way that serves to influence how the context or issues are perceived and evaluated.”
It sounds very intentional, like something that could only be done by someone skilled and manipulative. But the truth is we all frame questions, problems, or events in a way that reflects our world view. Framing exists everywhere, all the time. It’s the water we’re swimming in, and we don’t even notice that we’re wet.
Every single time we ask a question, we have a choice in how we frame it. Is this yogurt 80% fat free, or does it contain 20% fat? Is the law Obamacare or the Affordable Care Act? Is this person an expat or an immigrant? The way we frame things reveals a great deal about our assumptions and prejudices, as well as a great deal about what assumptions and prejudices we think our readers carry.
As Poppy Noor reports, Kyle Rittenhouse, the white 17-year-old who shot three people and killed two in Kenosha, is framed as a “volunteer,” a “vigilante,” an “avid supporter of the police,” someone who was “maintaining peace,” while Jacob Blake, the unarmed Black man who was shot seven times in the back by police and is now paralyzed, is framed as a “crazy violent criminal.”
Jamil Smith is right: The folks at CBS News got the framing of their tweet badly wrong. But in doing so, they inadvertently provided the opportunity to show the embedded racism in the framing. The contrast between the way the question was clearly intended and the actual replies it got is a stark reminder that our biases have a way of revealing themselves, even (or especially) when we’re blind to them.
As Jeremy Cluchey put it, “The thoughtful, heartbreaking replies to this stupid tweet should be required reading.” I agree.